The Obama administration on Thursday sought to block further court review in the case of five Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay who want to be sent to the United States or another country where they would like to live.
Before three federal appeals judges, a lawyer for the five ethnic Chinese Uighurs (pronounced WEE’-gurz) said his clients did not want to be resettled on the Pacific Ocean island of Palau and that they have a right to have their views taken into account by U.S. courts.
The government says it is trying to find a country that will accept the five, who fear their lives will be endangered if they are returned to China. The Obama administration has declared that the five pose no threat to the United States and should no longer be held as enemy combatants.
In court arguments, Judge A. Raymond Randolph seemed dismissive of the notion that the five men can use the court system in an effort to resettle in a country they find more desirable.
Bermuda would be “a really good deal,” Randolph scoffed.
There are important issues including “cultural affinity” regarding where the Uighurs wind up, replied Peter Sabin Willett, the lawyer for the Uighurs.
Willett pointed out that Bermuda offers jobs, a reference to the fact that four Uighurs from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were resettled in Bermuda last June. Willett added that Palau would not offer citizenship to the Uighurs.
Six Uighurs from Guantanamo Bay were resettled in Palau last October, while the five in Thursday’s court case rejected Palau’s invitation. Under a deal worked out with the Obama administration, Palau agreed to accept only those Uighurs who wanted to go to the island nation.
Randolph and another member of the panel, Karen LeCraft Henderson, were appointed by President George H.W. Bush.
Judge Judith Rogers challenged the Obama administration’s position, telling Justice Department attorney Sharon Swingle that in the Uighurs’ view, what the U.S. government is doing is tantamount to “exile” rather than resettlement. Rogers said the government’s position was that no country that would accept the Uighurs would be regarded by the government to be inappropriate as a destination for the Uighurs.
Swingle disagreed, replying that, for example, only those countries where there was no potential for mistreatment would be considered.
Rogers was appointed by President Bill Clinton.